Mainstream, VOL LIII No 27 New Delhi June 27, 2015
(Lalit) Modi’s India resembles an Animal Farm
Monday 29 June 2015, by
The “Modigate” is sure enough producing a lot of political heat, but not enough light is thrown into the scam. But then, no one is demanding an inquiry into the whole episode.
Some sections of the political class do not even want to hear about the scam. So strong is apparently their personal loyalty to Lalit Modi, which, clearly, makes him out to be one of the most powerful men in modern India.
Succinctly put, what we have here is an extraordinary level of personal interest that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has taken in enabling a fugitive Indian to get travel documents to make his life more comfortable and joyful. Now, why would she do such a thing?
Swaraj is s serious politician who has her wits about her. What was the basis of her swagger that she would get away with impunity what she did, by breaking the norms and procedures of the system of government functioning?
The point is, Swaraj is heading a Ministry which has an established system for handling petitions from the public. She also has on her staff foreign service officers to assist her in handling public petitions, who are well-accus-tomed to the system of functioning in the Ministry of External Affairs. Yet, for reasons best known to her, she completely bypassed them.
The established system in the MEA expects her office to consult the Foreign Secretary or at least the Joint Secretary concerned (who happens to be also concurrently India’s Chief Passport Officer) to advise her as to what to do with Lalit Modi’s petition (that is, presuming there was something, anything, in writing from him at all).
It is one hundred per cent certain that the MEA officials would have cautioned Swaraj against helping someone who is a well-known figure against whom a criminal case is pending in India and whose passport has been impounded by a decision by none other than the Chief Passport Officer (that is, Swaraj’s own officer who heads the CPV Division in her own Ministry.)
Simply put, they would have advised her that by intervening in the matter in favour of Modi, she would also be undercutting (super-seding) the démarche made by the Indian High Commission in London with the British autho-rities not to provide Modi with travel documents.
The curious part is that she apparently bypassed the Indian High Commission in London. She preferred to deal through the British High Commissioner in India rather than the Indian High Commissioner in London. Why?
The answer is simple. Swaraj didn’t want the Indian High Commissioner in London to be in the loop. She preferred to trust the British High Commissioner more. Why?
Because, the Indian High Commissioner in London would have promptly pointed out to her that her intervention effectively undercut and demean the Government of India and made a mockery of our démarche with the British Government not to help Lalit Modi.
Therefore, quite obviously, Swaraj found it expe-dient to altogether ignore the Indian High Commiss-ioner in London and to deal directly with the British authorities and the British political elites.
This is absolutely bizarre, to say the least. A politician of Swaraj’s experience in the govern-ment and in public life would know that Modi had a case pending against him allegedly for money laundering amounting to hundreds of crores of rupees. Nonetheless, she blithely went ahead and acted, overturning all established procedures in the Ministry of External Affairs to deal with public petitions.
Another intriguing aspect that arises is whether the summary removal of Sujatha Singh as the Foreign Secretary in January (under circumstances and for reasons that no one knows till today) and her replacement by a hand-picked, “trusted” officer in very exceptional circumstances had anything to do with the “Modigate”.
After all, Singh is the daughter of a former Intelligence Bureau chief who held public positions under successive Congress governments.
Singh is an officer of the highest integrity and it is an open secret that she never allowed herself to serve as doormats of her political bosses. She is endearingly remembered even today by a big majority of junior colleagues in the MEA for the fair, just, impartial manner in which she acquitted herself as the Foreign Secretary.
And, lo and behold, Singh is on record that Swaraj didn’t bother to consult her on the Modi case. It doesn’t surprise me at all.
Without doubt, a proper inquiry is needed. But the high probability is also that there won’t be one, if only because there is no knowing where all it could lead. The “Modigate” is a microcosm of what India has come to be—a Georgewellian farm where all animals are deemed equal but in practice some animals are indeed more equal than the others.
Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.